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'Avatar' Builds Box Office Buzz

"Avatar" is easily the most highly anticipated 3-D film ever, if not the most long awaited film ever, as James Cameron worked on it for nine years.

With 20th Century Fox readying for "Avatar's" big debut on Friday, theaters are already selling out. Some estimate the film's first three days to gross around $80 million in the U.S., with the potential to build over the holiday season, with kids out of school and families looking for a movie that will work for a range of ages.

Source: avatarmovie.com

Imax, whose big, 3-D format is perfect for seeing the film, has already sold out 125 shows. Total pre-sales as of Monday night were nearing $4 million worldwide. London's BFI IMAX Theater has grossed about $1 million in pre-sales with 42 sold out shows. Fandango is touting Imax as "The week's hottest ticket" and Imax 3-D is 39 percent of Fandango's ticket sales as of Monday. Movietickets.com reports 350 sold out performances for Avatar so far, with 70 percent of all ticket sales for the film.

Flixter reports that Avatar's strongest segment is males under the age of 25 and that the interest has grown dramatically in the past week. A slew of hugely positive reviews on Friday certainly have helped, as has a marketing partnership with McDonalds. Interest among females age 25 and younger has also risen dramatically this week.

It's worth noting that Avatar isn't expected to have as big an opening as "New Moon," which grossed $142.8 million. But Cameron's "Titanic" didn't have a huge open and managed to become the biggest movie of all time. Paramount released Titanic the very same weekend in 1997: it grossed $28.6 million in the US opening weekend and after 41 weekends in theaters had a total $600 m domestic gross and $1.84 billion gross worldwide.

"Avatar" is long—2 hours and forty minutes. Once you add trailers that becomes nearly three hours. A longer movie means that theaters can't play it as many times in a day, which theoretically would limit success. Length didn't hurt "Titanic," which is three hours and 14 minutes. I'd bet it won't hurt "Avatar" —people will feel like they're getting their money's worth.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.